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‘Caught in crossfire,’ office manager also sues

Staff writer

“Caught in the crossfire” of a vendetta against her employer, Marion County Record office manager Cheri Bentz filed on Friday the third of what are expected to be five federal lawsuits over the Aug. 11 police raid on the Record newsroom.

Bentz’s suit, while not identifying a dollar amount, names as defendants the City of Marion, former mayor David Mayfield, former police chief Gideon Cody, interim chief Zach Hudlin, sheriff Jeff Soyez, and sheriff’s detective Aaron Christner.

Bentz alleges that warrants used in the raid were based on false statements, were improperly approved, and were illegally too broad and that officers exceeded the scope of the warrants, which later were withdrawn as insufficient by the county attorney.

Bentz contends that she illegally was detained for several hours even though officers conducting the search acknowledged she was not suspected of wrongdoing.

The suit recounts how officers stormed the building from a rear entrance, startled her by approaching from behind, intimidated her with an overwhelming armed presence, denied her access to personal items, and prevented her from completing the newspaper’s weekly payroll in a timely manner.

She alleges that the defendants acted maliciously and wantonly, prompted by spite and ill will, to consciously violate her constitutional rights and those of the Record in furtherance of Mayfield’s publicly stated desire to “silence the MCR” and Cody’s attempts to put the Record out of business after it investigated allegations of improprieties in his previous position with the Kansas City police department.

As a result of the raid, Bentz has lost sleep, seen her daily quality of life diminished and her social relationships negatively impacted, and faced aggravated health conditions, her suit alleges.

These have resulted in a need for her to reduce her workload because of the “significant emotional toll of the raid,” thereby creating a chilling effect on her and the Record and their ability to function under the First Amendment, according to the suit.

The suit cites Hudlin’s overly cursory and potentially misleading initial investigation of the case and his exceeding of the scope of the search warrant by pointing out to Cody information the Record had obtained about Cody’s background.

It goes on to say that Hudlin’s subsequent appointment as interim chief, despite having “played a large role in the raids,” created a further chilling effect and “lingering concerns for all Record staff, including Bentz.”

The suit notes that defendants including Soyez demonstrated “consciousness of their guilt . . . when they tried to hide their illegal activities.”

Soyez is specifically accused of helping coordinate and direct the raids, including telling Cody to seize electronic devices even though required preliminary searches had revealed no evidence of wrongdoing, and of having a pizza party with Cody after the raid.

Mayfield, who publicly expressed a desire to silence the Record and Ruth Herbel, whose home also was raided, is accused of overruling city administrator Brogan Jones to authorize Cody’s investigation.

Christner is accused not only of participating in the raids but also of providing Cody a draft of the flawed application for search warrants and botching the required preliminary search of electronic devices to identify which should not be seized.

Bentz’s four-count complaint alleges that the defendants violated the First and Fourth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and the federal Privacy Protection Act, which generally bars searches of newsrooms, and seeks both actual and punitive damages along with legal fees.

Last modified April 3, 2024

 

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